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Lunch Break: Five Classic Eateries in Travelers Rest

Libby Wiersema Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 35 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.
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Once a grocery store, the Hungry Drover continues a local tradition of satisfying appetites.

The name Travelers Rest embodies the legacy of this stopover in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, earning it a place in South Carolina history as a point of respite for the many travelers and livestock drovers who once navigated the thoroughfare.

Though that tradition hearkens back to the 1700s, the town serves a similar purpose today, offering varied dining options and points of interest within the vicinity of the well-traveled U.S. Highway 25, which links Augusta, GA; Greenville, SC and Hendersonville, NC.

Travelers Rest’s hip culinary scene has made it an Upstate destination in its own right. The attractive downtown is rapidly becoming known as a hub for the farm-to-table movement thanks to a clutch of impressive restaurants driven by chefs committed to the concept. All that notoriety, however, tends to sometimes overshadow the less trendy, humbler cafes long patronized by locals.

If your route threads its way along that stretch through Travelers Rest, plan to take a break and savor the offerings of these hard-working establishments. If you have a little time to spare after lunch, check out some of the area’s points of interest.

Here are five eateries where the food is down-home, freshly prepared and always comforting.

 

Northwest Grill
John Allmond holds a doctorate in Burgerology. If you don’t believe that, he’s got a nameplate to prove it. The owner and kitchen wizard behind Northwest Grill holds a few more titles, including “BBQ Boss,” as proclaimed by the apron he dons each day before whipping up hearty meat-and-three meals. By all rights, he could add “Meatloaf Master,” “Pot Roast Potentate” and “Country Fried Steak King” to the lineup, too. The burgers issuing from this blue plate palace are legendary in Travelers Rest. Don’t forget to pair one with the hand-cut fries. Plan to recline the seats in your SUV for a little nap before resuming your travels. And do get a fried pie for the road. 

Travelers Restaurant 
The no-frills façade of this longtime eatery suits the simple, country dishes that made regulars out of locals and repeat customers out of those who find themselves passing through. But simple should not be mistaken for mediocre. Whether you choose to chomp down on a fried bologna sandwich crowned with an egg, country-style steak, fried chicken livers, hamburger steak or whatever the offerings of the day might be, you are in for a home-cooked treat. Sides like pinto beans, collard greens, yams and pickled beets are par for the course as is the corn bread. There’s a reason this restaurant has been going strong since 1959; take your foot off the pedal and find out for yourself.

Blue Daisy Cafe
Delightful and delicious, lunches at this charming, little robin’s egg blue cottage reflect home cookery at its best. Kentucky smoked ham, cheeseburger casserole, chicken and rice, beef tips and gravy. If that short list got your mouth watering, consider the sides: creamy mac-n-cheese, fried okra, black-eyed peas, mashed taters, slaw and more. In keeping with Southern tradition, meals here should be capped off with a dish of banana pudding.

Carolina Fine Foods 
A gathering spot for classic car aficionados and the chili cheeseburger crowd, this fast-food operation has been serving travelers and locals since 1980. Pull up to the drive-thru and nosh in your car, or head in to stretch your legs and linger over a quick but satisfying lunch. Burgers can be ordered “big” or regular with sides of fries and slaw. Or make a split decision with a “half-and-half”—a meal sided by both fries and onion rings. Hot dogs are made to order, but it would be tragic to forgo a generous stripe of the restaurant's signature homemade chili. Popcorn shrimp, chopped steak, chicken livers, fried chicken, barbecue and other entrees come plate-style with enough food to feed a small caravan. There’s an array of deli sandwiches, too. For lighter appetites, the Carolina chef salad is the way to go. If you’re passing through on a Sunday, you can opt for a meat-and-three special, like turkey and dressing or country fried steak with all the fixings.

Hungry Drover 
Operating in a former grocery store just off the beaten path, this cozy cafe and artisan market keeps the intersection at Tigerville and Locust Hill roads hopping. A “farm fresh” focus drives the menu here, so dishes typically feature local produce, cheeses and other ingredients. The inviting dining room has a country kitchen vibe that is warm and relaxing, with local artwork and crafts as appointments. The menu board behind the counter clues you in on the day’s offerings. Calabash chicken, hamburger steak, smoked sausage, chicken fried steak and pulled pork are commonly featured with a host of sides like collards, potato salad, fried okra, mac-n-cheese, fried green tomatoes and other toothsome choices. Homemade breads, desserts and other baked goods are standouts, too, as is the decadent tomato pie made with Gouda cheese and a heavenly, buttery crust. Named in honor of those drovers who once passed through the aptly named town of Travelers Rest, this cafe is well worth turning off the highway for.

 

Got a little time to spare before you hit the road again? Check out these points of interest.

 

Travelers Rest History Museum, 3 Edwards Street, Travelers Rest 
If you're in town on a Saturday or Sunday, take in some local history at this small but comprehensive museum. Free admission.

Poinsett Bridge, 580 Callahan Mountain Road, Travelers Rest 
The focal point of the Poinsett Bridge Heritage Preserve, this Gothic stone arch is the oldest surviving bridge in South Carolina.

Campbell’s Covered Bridge, 171 Campbells Covered Bridge Road, Landrum 
Quaint and romantic, the only remaining covered bridge in the state is a red pine structure spanning babbling Beaverdam Creek. Walk through it, snap some pics and embark on a half-mile nature trail that loops through the surrounding forest.

Shop Downtown 
Follow the signs to downtown Travelers Rest where you’ll find a bevy of locally owned retail stores for browsing or buying. From boutiques to antiques, downtown merchants offer a unique shopping experience just right for travelers with an hour or so to kill before taking to the highway again.

Swan Lake Trail, Furman University
Enjoy a serene walk on this paved trail around beautiful Swan Lake and the lush rose garden, both situated on the campus of the state’s oldest university. At just 1.5 miles, it is just right for folks who want to drink in some scenery while working a little exercise into their travel plans.

Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 35 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.